What is it like, to be a pretty, privileged thing?
“Father tells me that I was beautiful the moment I came out of my mother,” he flaunted at his own reflection and at the servant by his side. It was mostly at his reflection, bright and exquisitely put-together upon the mirror, a pristine icon of wealth and what this wealth made out of an otherwise common boy.
He used a glittery nail to scratch at the lacy fabric of his collar, and the frustration that had twisted his insides a few seconds ago returned, tenfold. The frock coat he wore, no matter how beautifully embroidered with gold and jewels it was, appeared loose on his form, folds of silk pooling near the hipbones.
He tugged at a place where it didn’t quite tauten and embrace the skin, whining gently. “I thought you took this to the tailor, Mr. Alexei.” He whirled around to face the servant polishing his shoes. “Y-Yes, I did, sir,” the man replied. Mr. Alexei was flesh hanging from bare bones, time-withered and vintage if looked at from a peculiar angle.
From normal angles, however, he was a mere skeleton.
He was also, at most times, incompetent and drew a thousand exasperated sighs from Reid. The only salvageable thing about him was the gaudy broach that rested inches below the collar of his shirt—the insignia of the Hennings clan: a dark panther, hewn out of iron, lithe and deadly. Panthers never let a prey go. Reid had a similar one, but his hung from his neck.
Fingertips rose to touch the cold material.
“Worry not,” Mr. Alexei drew closer and began to undo the silver buttons of the coat. “I am sure we can find a new one just fine—” Reid, sighing, took a curt step forward to be free from other’s hands. “It’s fine, leave me be.”
The man stopped, bowed, and then left.
Only then, did he shed from the silken garments, soft fingertips peeling them like clementine skin. Without the attire bearing down on him, he felt swift and sure-footed, something akin to the panther that rested in between his collarbones. Staring at himself in the mirror, he purred and laughed. Oh, what a plump thing he was—dewy skin, dark brows, dazzling eyes. Trimmed and elegant, like he preferred to be. Like he’d promised himself he would always be. Like his parents had made him to be. Reid Hennings, pretty. Reid Hennings, an exquisite creature. Reid Hennings, the heir of the Hennings clan. He inched nearer to the mirror, staring at himself in the eyes.
Reid Hennings, son of a drug lord.
Reid Hennings, prince of cartels.
They could call him whatever pretty or hideous names their tongues could form. To him, he would always be Reid Hennings, survivor. Reid Hennings, who helped build his family an empire.
Suddenly, he knew what to wear for the gala tonight.
The coat was a dark green like snake-skin and touched the floor, leather but smooth enough to sparkle like the surface of a still lake. It coddled his form, taut and lean, accentuating every curve and ridge he had but also making him seem taller than he was in the dimmed atmosphere of the ballroom.
It was evening—all their parties were in the evening—and in the dying light, he knew that he looked princely, someone regal and proper, hair slicked back with pomade and a bright smile. Someone that bristled with an unknown power. Reid broadened the smile plastered across his face and let his eyes finally meet the attendees’.
Talk was cordial, polite banters about their mansion’s beauty or how tall he’d become or the taste of the cider they served. All criminals knew better to keep the conversations about stolen drugs or the alarmingly increasing rate of arrests this month to the dark—to the quiet study of his father, to the little rooms left empty in their mansion, or to the large and labyrinth cellar they walked underneath, where the workers were brewing their most addictive concoctions as of right now. Any loose talk would end up in a warning: a blade to their door.
And then, if it continued, the reckoning: a blade to their throat.
Their Henning family of panthers were aged hunters. He knew how to silence someone, and then how to clean up afterwards.
They all did.
Drifting through the crowd, Reid spoke and laughed, shaking hands and accepting kisses to his cheek. He caroused around until his shoulder brushed with his father’s.
Raymond Henning was a reflection of Reid, lean and slender, dark eyes and a smile that could charm, but he was tattered at the edges by the happenings in a past only his family knew. A past only his family lived through, alongside him.
“All’s well, I presume?” He asked and Reid was swift to nod.
“Mr. Hanes is a tad tipsy and talked to me about how much he loved our happy little pills—but it’s just the alcohol talking.” A tension made the other’s dark brows knit together in a frown. Reid flushed and took a tentative step back. “No slipups, Reid,” He said and although his tone wasn’t stern, Reid knew what it was meant to sound like. “It’ll be fine,” he protested. He’d always understood his father’s paranoia, how he mistrusted everything—including his family—but the gala intensified this to a daunting level. How effortlessly secrets could fester in dinners such as this one, how they grow.
“Take care of it.”
Reid’s heart twisted, but he simply gave him another nod.